Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the

Tween Girl World
By: Nancy Rue
If you're the mom of a girl age eight to twelve,
Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World is
the help and seasoned advice you've been longing
for! No one knows tween girls better than
bestselling girls' author and tween authority Nancy
Rue. In this personable and encouraging resource,
she equips you with comprehensive guidance for
handling every aspect of your tween and her world.

Learn More | Zondervan on Scribd | Zondervan.com

Other Books by Nancy Rue
FOR TWEENS

On Relationships

On Authenticity

Girl Politics: Friends, Cliques, and Really
Mean Chicks

Everybody Tells Me to Be Myself,
But I Don’t Know Who I Am

Dear Nancy

Dear Nancy

The Buddy Book

The It’s MY Life Book

The Best Bash Book

The Creativity Book

The Blurry Rules Book

The Uniquely Me Book

The Lily Series, fiction, Books 1 – 14

The Fun-Finder Book

The Sophie Series, fiction, Books 1 – 12

The Sophie Series, fiction, Books 1 – 12

The Lucy Novels, fiction, Books 1 – 4

The Lily Series, fiction, Books 1 – 14

On Spiritual Formation

On Beauty

The FaithGirlz Bible (edited by Nancy Rue)

The Skin You’re In

That is SO Me: A One-Year FaithGirlz
Devotional

Dear Nancy
The Beauty Book
Here’s Lily, fiction, Lily Series Book 1
The Lucy Novels, fiction, Books 1 – 4

On the Changing Body
Body Talk
Dear Nancy
The Body Book
Lily Robbins, M.D., fiction, Lily Series Book 2
Sophie’s Secret, fiction, Sophie Series, Book 2

The Year ’Round Holiday Book
The Values and Virtues Book
The Lily Series, fiction, Books 1 – 14
The Sophie Series, fiction, Books 1 – 12
The Lucy Series, fiction Books 1 – 4

For Teen Girls
Motorcycles, Sushi, and One Strange Book
Boyfriends, Burritos, and an Ocean
of Trouble

Lucy Out of Bounds, Lucy Novels, Book 2

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We want to hear from you. Please send your comments about this
book to us in care of zreview@zondervan.com. Thank you.

ZONDERVAN
Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World
Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Rue
This title is also available as a Zondervan ebook.
Visit www.zondervan.com/ebooks.
This title is also available in a Zondervan audio edition.
Visit www.zondervan.fm.
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rue, Nancy N.
Moms’ ultimate guide to the tween girl world / by Nancy Rue.
p.  cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-310-28474-1 (softcover)
1. Mothers and daughters — ​Religious aspects — ​Chris­tian­ity. 2. Daughters — ​Religious life.
3. Girls — ​Religious life. 4. Preteens — ​Religious life. I. Title.
BV4529.18.R84  2010
248.8'45 — ​dc22
2010003117
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Message. Copyright ©
by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress
Publishing Group.
Any Internet addresses (websites, blogs, etc.) and telephone numbers printed in this book are
offered as a resource. They are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement by
Zondervan, nor does Zondervan vouch for the content of these sites and numbers for the life
of this book.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means — ​electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or
any other — ​except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the
publisher.
Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard
Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80920. www.alivecommunications.com
Cover design: Merit Creative Design
Cover photography: Claire Artman / Veer
Butterfly illustrations: Andrea Venanzi
Interior design: Sherri L. Hoffman
Printed in the United States of America
10  11  12  13  14  15  /DCI/  24  23  22  21  20  19  18  17  16  15  14  13  12  11  10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

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For all the mothers of mini-women . . .
and, of course, for Marijean

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Contents
Why Do I Need an Ultimate Guide?

9

Part One
I Tell Her to Be Herself, but She Doesn’t Know Who She Is
1. Will My Real Daughter Please Step Forward?
2. Is She Herself, or Is She You?
3. Why Can’t She Just Be Herself?

31
57
77

Part Two
Well, I Think You’re Beautiful
4. What Does She See When She Looks in the Mirror?
5. Passing the Beauty Care Baton
6. “But You’re Beautiful on the Inside . . .”

109
125
145

Part Three
Who Are You, and What Have You Done with My Little Girl?
7. The Biggest Deal Since Potty Training
8. The Care and Feeding of a Tween

167
193

Part Four
Why Can’t They Just Get Along?
9. The Gospel according to Friends
10. When It Gets Ugly

217
241

I n Closing . . .
Notes
Index

275
279
285

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Why Do I Need an Ultimate Guide?

I

f you ask a seven-year-old girl what she would like to have on her
pizza, she will undoubtedly tell you. In detail. Leaving nothing
to chance lest she should be confronted with something gross and
disgusting and icky. Ewww.
If you ask a twelve-year-old girl what she would like to have on
her pizza, she will more than likely roll her eyes or stuff her hair behind her ears or make some other pubescently awkward gesture and
say, “I don’t know.” Or, perhaps the more hip version: “Whatever.”
If you ask a sixteen-year-old girl what she would like to have on
her pizza, she will probably give you the now-polished version of that
same gesture and say, “What would you like to have on our pizza?”1
What happens to girls between the ages of eight and twelve? Before they hit that pivotal period, they were so sure of who they were
and what they wanted and didn’t hesitate to tell you whether you
wanted to hear it or not. What goes on in those five years? What
makes sweet little baby girlfriends gradually lose their minds and
become teenagers who, despite their show of independence, can’t
choose a pizza topping without taking a poll of their peers?
What happens is tween-hood. It isn’t the innocent early childhood that, tantrums and potty training notwithstanding, was relatively easy to understand. And it isn’t adolescence which nobody
understands, though some misguided souls have tried.
This age eight-to-twelve period in our daughters’ lives didn’t even
have a name until about ten years ago when the advertising world came
up with the term tween. It’s clever, but it implies that its ­members are
merely sandwiched between two more important and infinitely more

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Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World

10

interesting stages of their lives. Freudian psychologists even used to
call it “the latent period,” and unfortunately a lot of ­people still see it
that way. Tweens are old enough to take themselves to the restroom
and, speaking of sandwiches, make their own, but we don’t yet have to
worry about them wrecking the family car or piercing their tongues.
Nice. Let’s take a rest period before your household turns into WWE.
If you were one of those ­people who thought that, you wouldn’t
have picked up this book. I’m betting that you’re a mom who knows
her daughter is not just “latent,” or simply “between” one thing and
another, or silently gearing up to drive you nuts the minute she turns
thirteen. You know that she:

f

f t he Mout hs
to
o
u
O

Mini-Women
“The only thing I
want in my life is this:
for Mom and me to
be close. But I can’t
tell my mom how I
feel, and I feel alone.
Can you PLEASE help
me?”
age 12

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• may or may not brush her hair on a regular basis, but she
already knows that what she looks like makes a difference in
how ­people treat her.
• is in possession of a body that’s changing right before her eyes,
or is wondering why hers isn’t changing when “everybody
else’s” is.
• would almost lay down her life, or at least her favorite hoodie,
for that center of her universe, the BFF (for the uninitiated,
that’s Best Friend Forever).
• will probably roll her eyes right up into her head if you say to
her, “Just be yourself and you’ll be fine,” because she’s discovering that who she thought “herself” was is now in question.
That’s your tween girl — ​a rapidly transforming mini-woman, if
you will. And yet like all human beings in transition, she’s not on a
linear track. Have you noticed that:
• one day she wants no part of your advice, and the next she’s in
your lap begging for help?
• one hour she’s playing dress-up with her little sister, and
the next she has a sign on her door that reads NO SIBLINGS
ALLOWED?
• one minute she wants to operate the stove or the ATV or the
chain saw, and the next she’s afraid to ask a waiter for a glass
of water?

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• one second she’s asking you to drop her at the corner so her
friends won’t see what you’re wearing (Mo-om!), and the next
she wants to borrow that cool necklace you just bought?
• one nano-second she doesn’t get why you won’t let her stay
alone in the house at night and the next she’s climbing into
your bed, convinced the boogeyman is alive and well and
headed down the hall?
Her world is exciting and confusing, inside and out, and it’s made
more so by the society she lives in. That is probably one of the biggest reasons you’ve opened this book. You know that as a Millennial
(born between 1982 and 2002) your mini-woman is growing up far
differently than you did. The average tween girl today:
• enters puberty at age nine, eight if she’s African-American (a
full year earlier than in 1960).
• prefers the same television programming as most fourteenyear-olds,2 not good news since 70 percent of what’s available
for viewing contains sexual content.3
• spends ten hours a week at her computer, with seven of those
taken up with computer games, surfing the Web, and emailing
friends4 (not homework, as she claims!).
• has a 33 percent chance of having a cell phone by age eleven.5
• spends ten hours a week texting.6
• influences 30 percent of her family’s purchases.7
• at age twelve is likely to have higher levels of aggressive fantasies than boys of the same age8 (who admittedly don’t have to
have fantasies because they are out there actually duking it out).
• has a 25 percent chance of being physically bullied and a 45
percent chance of being cyber bullied by her peers.9
• can pick up a magazine designed for girls ages ten to fourteen
and read:
“Can Your Crush Go the Distance?”
“Get Your Ultimate Bikini Belly”
“Boobology Basics”
“Love Your Butt”

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Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World

• has a one in four chance of being sexually molested by the
time she’s 18.10
• is 75 percent more likely to commit suicide before she is fourteen than her counterparts in 2004.11
• refers to her childhood in the past tense. (And who wouldn’t
with those statistics?)
The world she has to navigate has been altered so drastically since
you were her age, it’s hardly recognizable as the same place. In this
foreign-to-you land she is trying to navigate she is keenly aware of
the breaking of public trust. Tweens on the upper end of the age
range can remember 9/11, and all of them are living in the wake of
it. Even those who can’t tell you what insider trading or subprime
lending is are aware that somebody messed up someplace and now
­people’s moms and dads don’t have jobs.
She is also likely to feel rather entitled. Many tweens are chauffeured everywhere, given every possible opportunity, and consistently entertained. That’s what good parents do these days, and many
kids expect it.
Her time is probably tightly structured. She may have to squeeze
free play in between dance classes, soccer practice, and a Happy
Meal in the back of the SUV on the way to Wednesday night church.
When she does have down time, the increasing parental fear of predators makes playing outdoors with friends or (gasp) on her own
completely out of the question. According to psychiatrist Stuart
Brown (Baylor), who has studied the importance of play for forty-two
years, “the lack of opportunities for unstructured, imaginative play
can keep children from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults.”12
Free play — ​not a play date with a full agenda of activities planned
by moms — ​i s critical for developing problem-solving and stressreducing skills.
Your daughter is no doubt a digital native. The computer, the cell
phone, and the MP3 player, to name only a few, have become the constant companions of our tweens. Even if your daughter owns none
of the above, she undoubtedly has acquaintances who do and may
secretly covet these instruments of belonging.

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13

Many of our tweens can’t find their way to the grocery store, the
church, or their BFF’s house because their portable device keeps
them glued to a tiny screen while their moms are driving them to
those places. They think of the Internet as a neighborhood, and they
have virtual friends there. Surreal to those of us not on Facebook — ​
perfectly normal to them. And if your tween daughter isn’t technically savvy — ​well, there’s one more area where anxiety can soar and
self-worth can plummet.
If she’s like the majority of tweens, she lives with parents who
may themselves be digitally focused. No judgment intended here — ​
just some facts. Sixty-seven percent of moms check their email
three to four times a day. The average dad spends nineteen hours a
week playing video games or surfing the Net.13 I personally seldom
see a young mother without a cell phone on her person — ​not just
in her purse, but inserted in her ear or clutched in her hand. I don’t
doubt that her thumbs go through the motions of texting while she
sleeps.
Needless to say (but let’s do), the tween girl lives in a world of
accelerated change with few cultural or social traditions, norms, and
support to help her feel secure. Nothing in the world is the same
as it was last year or last month or sometimes last week, just when
she needs for it to be. So she looks for a deeper emotional connection with her parents — ​and you’re in the midst of dealing with that
schedule overload and economic insecurity and post-modern iffiness
yourself. How are you supposed to provide centering, connecting
events for your family when it’s all you can do to get them from
school to softball practice to Awana to homework to bed before midnight without screaming, “Shut up — ​I’m sick of all of you!”
Now, before you toss this book in the trash (who needs this
downer, right?), not all of the change that has happened in our culture since you were ten has been negative. As a society we have a
much better understanding of mental health than we did twentyfive years ago (good news for those of us being driven crazy by
­parenthood!). Thanks to the Internet and social networking, we can
find anything and anyone we want right at the computer terminals

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Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World

found in most of our households — ​everything from how to help our
kids with ADHD to where there might be a G-rated movie playing
this weekend (if indeed such a thing still exists). We know more
about the benefits of nutrition, exercise . . . even chocolate. We’ve
elected an African-American president, which, no matter what your
politics, is a sign that we are making progress in overcoming prejudice and bigotry. Even a fresh look at Chris­tian­ity has transformed
many pew potatoes into true disciples who are working to solve the
problems ­Jesus cares about. Many Chris­tians in the generation your
tween will follow (those brought up in the eighties and nineties)
are showing a greater awareness of the world, says Reverend Romal
Tune, CEO of the Washington, DC-based Clergy Strategic Alliances.
“They’re connecting through Facebook and using scripture to support their causes on social issues . . .The church will in 20 years not
be defined by a building that ­people attend for worship on Sunday
morning, but by how Chris­tians treat ­people in the world.14
Yet still you worry. Old seems to be happening sooner, a phenomenon paraphrased by marketers as K.G.O.Y — ​Kids Growing Older
Younger.15 Ten, “they” say, is the new fifteen. You go shopping for
clothes with your eight-year-old and find only smaller versions of
what the teenagers are (barely) wearing. Your eleven-year-old, like 54
percent of her same-age peers, doesn’t think she’s too young to wear
makeup.16 Your nine-year-old is convinced she’s grossly overweight.
Your ten-year-old is in tears because her BFF stole the boy she was
“going out with” (though no one knows where it is they were going
or how they planned to get there).
Worrying because that’s what mothers do is one thing. Just try
and stop us, right? But the lie-awake-at-night kind of concern the
tween world presents us with shouldn’t rob us of the joy of raising
daughters. And it doesn’t have to.

Tween Positives
In my thirty-five years of teaching, writing for, hanging out with, and
raising one of these, my favorite brand of kid, I have come to know
many positive, joyous, soul-boosting things about the tween years.

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For example, in the tween years, your daughter is still more likely to
look to you for guidance, security, and all-out authority than she is
to anyone else, including the all-knowing BFF (or group thereof). She
wants you. She responds to you. She soaks you up like the proverbial
sponge, especially when you aren’t looking.17
Even while the continual movement toward adolescence teems beneath the surface, she is still a little girl in so many ways. She may roll
her eyes and use “whatever” as every part of speech but a subordinate
conjunction, but she will play at the slightest suggestion — ​and giggle
and snuggle and dream and squeal over the Easter basket with every
bit as much delight as she did when she was three years old.
She is, by the nature of her developmental stage, open to all that
the Chris­t ian faith has to offer: forgiveness, hope, empowerment,
a sense of belonging and acceptance, and the knowledge that she
is loved unconditionally. Even secular sources, such as Dr. James
Barbarino, author of See Jane Hit, say that nonpunitive, love-centered
religion has been shown to create a buffer against a sick society.18
He continues: “Children with a true belief that there is something
beyond themselves that has power and who see a God-given purpose
for themselves are far more likely to become confident, productive,
empathetic and loving than those who don’t.” Since 90 percent of
Chris­tians make a commitment to follow Christ with their lives before age twenty — ​you can see where I’m going with that.19
In short, your tween daughter is in prime time. She can absorb
all that you, the faith community, and her own unsullied instincts
offer her, with far more wisdom than her early-childhood sisters, and
with far less cynicism and confusion than her teenage ones. In other
words, get her now, before she thinks she knows almost everything
and thinks what she doesn’t know she sure isn’t going to get from
you. It is never too late for our daughters, of course, but it sure can
be too hard if we wait.

Pick Your Parenting Style
So who’s waiting? Most moms I’ve talked with in workshops have
chosen a parenting style and are running with it as fast as they can.

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Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World

From my observation, they — ​you! — ​seem to embrace one of three
ways to approach the awe-full task of raising a tween daughter.
• The Greenhouse Approach. Care for her like an orchid in a hothouse, sheltering her from absolutely everything “out there,”
beyond the glass walls, that might put anything negative or
doubtful into her mind. The Greenhouse Mom’s mantra: “If
she doesn’t know about it, she won’t do it.”
• The Throw-Her-to-the-Wolves Method. It’s a tough world out
there and she’s got to learn to deal with it eventually, so bring
it on. The Wolf Mother’s mantra: “She’s going to do it anyway,
and she might as well be prepared.”
• The Open-Handed Philosophy. She is still a young girl and
should be protected, but not from herself. She needs careful
guidance into the next appropriate thing so she can gradually
go out into that tough world. The Open-Handed Mama’s mantra: “She’s going to decide what she’s going to do someday, and
I have to teach her how to do that now.”
Do I need to point out which style I think gives a daughter her
best chance of becoming the marvelous human being she was born
to be? I’m all about Open-Handed Parenting, so I won’t be giving you
a list of things to keep your daughter away from. She isn’t an orchid,
but more like a tree, which needs to be exposed to the elements in
order to grow. And I definitely won’t be telling you how to “survive”
parenting her as she goes out and does her own thing.
Instead, I would love to be your ally, encouraging you to be the
most important influence in your mini-woman’s life. I’ve brought
together what I’ve learned from my work with tween girls and their
moms, my training and experience as an educator, and my, shall we
say, interesting journey as a mother, into a place you can turn for
empathy, understanding, information, and suggestions. I would love
to provide you with something like that instruction manual we all
whined for when we got home from the hospital with our newborn
baby girl and realized we didn’t know what the Sam Hill we were
doing. However, every make and model is different, so we’ll have to
rely on the truths that seem to apply to all of our tween girls and to

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us, and learn to know our daughters well enough to find the truths
unique to each of them. In short, I want to help you open your hands,
with confidence and joy.

Just So You Know Before You Read On
I am not a perfect mother. That’s kind of like admitting I’m not a
unicorn. Neither creature exists. Both are fantasies. As the mother
of a tween girl, I was anxious, overcommitted, and anorexic. I spent
what we used to call “quality time” with my daughter (a term I’ve
come to hate), but on a daily basis I was often distracted and snarky
and oblivious to the fact that my girl-child hadn’t brushed her hair
in a week. And yet, when I recently asked my now thirty-year-old
daughter Marijean what she feels was messed up about her childhood, she pondered far longer than she usually does (she is seldom
at a loss for words) and finally said, “About the only thing was getting my body image issues from you. But, Mom, I always wanted
to be like you, and if you’d been perfect, I would have had to kill
you.” I’m going to take that as a you-did-many-things-right. I want
to share those things with you, as well as what I learned from doing
some things wrong.
So it only follows that — ​well — ​you aren’t a perfect mom either.
Maybe you play the role of peacemaker and never let your kids fight
their own battles. Maybe you’re basically the maid, and have the occasional bout of furious resentment that sends everybody to their
respective corners to wait until you get dinner on the table. Perhaps
you’re the powerhouse who makes the rules and schedules clear but
has no time for somebody breaking the rhythm to have a meltdown.
Could be you are the ultimate positive mom who bolsters everybody
up but is quick to brush the negative stuff under the rug. At times,
you are probably just plain angry, tired, guilty, and resentful — ​and
you make no bones about the fact that it’s everybody else’s fault.
Chances are, you have been and will continue to be all of the above
at one time or another. So — ​get over thinking you have to be the
flawless parent. This path is about process, not perfection. Neither
you nor your daughter is going to move forward without making a

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Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World

myriad of mistakes from which you’ll both learn. That is actually
where the good stuff happens.
I believe you are first and foremost your daughter’s mother. Not
her buddy. Not her BFF. You’re her maternal ally as she learns to
strike out on her own. You’re the one who sets boundaries and warns
of consequences and, as Carol Burnett once said, loves her enough
to let her hate you sometimes. That doesn’t mean you can’t be close,
share girly times, and treasure each other in a relationship like no
other. It does mean frequently making decisions for her that she
isn’t ready to make yet, decisions that evoke “You don’t understand!”
when in fact you understand all too well.
I think parenting a tween requires as much change in us as in our
daughters. Let’s face it — ​some of what qualifies as good parenting of
this age group just doesn’t come naturally. Cuddling, rocking, feeding, and diaper changing, though exhausting, may have been almost

f

f t he Mout hs
to
o
u
O

Mini-Women
How Am I Supposed to Honor My Parents When . . .
They make a mistake with me, and even though they admit it, they don’t
apologize.
They yell at me in front of my friends.
They tell stories about me that they know are embarrassing in front of
­people who are important to me.
They talk about me like I’m not even in the room.
They read my private journal.
They believe a lie my brother or sister told about me.
They punish me for something I didn’t do.
They have fights that really upset me.
I hardly ever see them.
They’re abusive.
Responses from tween girls in a Blurry Rules Workshop

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instinctive. Early discipline was pretty cut and dried. Here’s what
“no” means and here’s what happens when you say it. But backing
off to let your tween daughter make a choice you know isn’t going
to end well, or watching other kids tease her because she isn’t their
clone — ​those things aren’t necessarily in your makeup.
Not only that, but at this point your daughter knows which of
your buttons to push because by now they are all clearly marked
for her. Add to that the fact that she no longer misses a trick in your
behavior. Even if you’re just an average gossiper, tell a few white lies,
and have the occasional maternal meltdown, you’re acting in ways
that, by zero tolerance standards, wouldn’t be allowed in her school.
Again, you can’t be perfect, but if you want to be good, some alterations in your default reactions may be required.
You may have to change your image of what a “talk” is too. Yeah,
I hate it, but 90 percent of “Because I’m the parent and I said so” is
going to have to go if you want decent communication with your tween
daughter. The 10 percent is reserved for situations where there’s no
time for an explanation — ​she has to get out of the way of the oncoming train, for instance. The rest of the time you’re looking at dialogue,
not just you holding forth and her listening and obeying. First-time
obedience is the goal, but it’s going to be more likely if she understands
the reasoning behind what you want her to do. That wasn’t appropriate when she was a toddler or preschooler. Now that she’s developing
higher levels of thinking, “Just do it” only works for Nike.
Here’s the way I look at it: If you both don’t come out of a discussion seeing something in a new way, however small, it wasn’t a real
conversation. That could mean she sees that you aren’t the pushover
she assumed you were, and you see that she is a lot savvier than
you thought she was. Good things to know for future dialogues. It
does not mean you have to repeat the conversation every time that
topic comes up. It’s perfectly okay for you to say, “I refer you to our
agreement on October 5,” and expect her to get on with it. You’ll save
yourself a lot of nagging, lecturing, repeating, and yelling, none of
which works any better than “Because I’m the mother.” Don’t think
you have time for dialoguing? What about all those aforementioned
hours in the car going to and from everywhere?

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f

f t he Mout hs
to
o
u
O

Mini-Women
“Your daughter will
most likely pretend
she doesn’t want to
talk with you by evading your questions.
But keep on talking to
her, and she’ll eventually open up. But if
she really DOESN’T
want to talk, leave
her alone for a while,
or you’ll damage the
relationship.”
age 13

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As you work and play and talk with your daughter, she can help
teach you how she needs to be parented in this new phase of her
life. I can offer you tools and suggestions, but those things can only
be used in light of what you know about her and what you allow
her to show you about who she really is. Everything you read here
should go through your personal filter. I respect that with every word
I write, and I’ll remind you of it ad nauseam.
If you’re not enjoying being her mom at least some of the time,
that really bears looking at. It’s all right to admit that parenting isn’t
always a blast. Nobody’s crazy about getting reluctant students off to
school or reining in the first fits of boy craziness. But we can get so
caught up in the frenetic, day-to-day job of, as one tween girl with
ten siblings put it in an email to me, “making sure we all survive
the day,” we can forget to laugh at our daughters’ jokes (tween girls
think they are hilarious) and revel in their discoveries and delight in
their growth. We miss out on just about everything that’s worthwhile
about being parents if we let that slip away unnoticed.
For all of this you are definitely going to need God. You know the
verse where ­Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye
of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? That no
one has a chance of doing it alone but every chance if he sticks with
him? Then surely, it’s easier for that same camel to pass through the
eye of that identical needle than for the parent of a tween girl to guide
her into a healthy, well-adjusted, God-loving adolescence without
God right smack in the middle of it. Help for doing that is an inherent part of this book.
At the same time, it’s wishful thinking to say that a good home
life with all the right influences, even being brought up in the
church with ­Jesus all around, guarantees that she will turn out to
be a deeply spiritual, highly productive adult. God doesn’t promise
that. At all. Trust me — ​I’ve looked. Even Proverbs 22:6 — ​“Train a
child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn
from it (NIV)” — ​isn’t the never-fail promise it appears to be at first
glance. If you don’t train them up in the way they should go, you
definitely won’t see good results. But we’ve all known kids whose
parents seemed to epitomize this proverb and who still had messy

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adolescences and messier twenties. And yet . . . at some point they
eventually realized they needed to make better choices, and had the
foundation on which to build a good life. There is no guarantee, not
in this very-changed world. But there is giving them the best chance
and praying them through.
A word about Dad before we continue. Parenting is such a team
effort, as any mother or father trying to raise a child alone will tell
you. That becomes more apparent than ever in your daughter’s tween
years when she encounters Dad’s advice about boys (or his refusal
to acknowledge them!) and his unspoken effect on her beauty and
self-image. His influence is so important, in fact, that I’ve devoted an
entirely separate book — ​w ritten with my husband — ​for the dads of
tween girls. You can look for What Happened to My Little Girl? in the
spring of 2011. So while I will refer to Dad from time to time, our
focus here is on your special role in your daughter’s life. Anything
here that rings true for you, by all means share it with him. A united
effort is always a stronger one.

f

f t he Mout hs
to
o
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O

Mini-Women
“I would really enjoy it if my mom would do more things with me ...
sort of like having a special day for just the two of us. I think that would
maybe even strengthen our relationship more, because we’d have a
whole girl day to talk about ANYTHING!”
age 11
“I wish the same thing. Except even if I did get a day like that with my
mom, I don’t know what we would talk about. She’s never really invited
me to talk or tell her anything or tell her my problems. It’s great that
some girls are getting closer to their moms now. I wish it was the same
for me.”
age 12

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Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World

What We’ll Talk About
My work with tween girls has convinced me beyond a doubt that
there are four areas of ultimate concern to them, and we ignore those
at our peril and theirs. Having provided a book on each of these for
the mini-women themselves, I’m offering you a mom’s-eye view on
these four ultimate issues: (1) Who am I? (2) Am I pretty enough? (3)
What’s happening to my body? and (4) Do they like me?

Section One: I Tell Her to Be Herself, But She Doesn’t Know
Who She Is (Identity)
In this part of the book, there’s help for imprinting the concept
of authenticity before adolescence comes in and tries to wreak havoc
on it. You’ll find advice here for helping daughters find and be comfortable with their true selves, including encouragement for letting
them make mistakes along the way. As a result of this section you’ll
be able to let your mini-woman discover herself within the Chris­tian
parameters of a kind, loving individual, rather than tell her who she
is or who she should be. That reinforces what your tween girl can
learn in Everybody Tells Me to Be Myself, But I Don’t Know Who I Am.

Section Two: Well, I Think You’re Beautiful (Beauty)
It’s my intent in this section to give you some help in encouraging soul-image (as opposed to self-image) and inner beauty in your
daughter. Yes, you’ll find tips for grooming and fashion that are ageappropriate for mini-women. The emphasis, though, is on guiding
her toward a healthy attitude about beauty in a decidedly unhealthy
beauty culture. What you do as a result of reading this section will
reinforce what she can read in The Skin You’re In.

Section Three: Who Are You, and What Have You Done with
My Little Girl? (Puberty)
Here you’ll find a mini-handbook for supporting your tween
daughter through one of the most challenging periods of her life:
puberty and its baffling physical and emotional changes. My purpose is to help you allow that mini-woman of yours to grow into full

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womanhood naturally and at her own pace, rather than nudging her,
if not downright pushing her, into adolescence before she’s ready to
go there. We’ll be all about ten not being the new fifteen, something
your daughter can embrace in Body Talk.

Section Four: Why Can’t They Just Get Along? (Friendships)
In this final section, I feel a deep obligation (and an equally deep
humility) to offer help for guiding your daughter toward the healthy
girl friendships that will shape her future relationships. I hope the
suggestions you’ll find here will enable you to enjoy your tween girl’s
totally girlfriend years before boys come in and tangle things up. That
includes your looking at yourself and determining honestly how you
want to participate in that. Whether you are the mom whose house
all the girls flock to or the one-friend-here-at-a-time mama, you’ll
have a chance to set boundaries that will serve your daughter — ​and
you — ​well. And speaking of friendship, I hope you’ll find through
this section ways to nurture a relationship with your daughter that
will survive and even flourish in the teen years. What you glean here
is reflected in your daughter’s book Girl Politics: Friends, Cliques, and
Really Mean Chicks.

How We’ll Talk about It
Each of the sections is divided into chapters that focus on the real
and the practical, with their basis in the spiritual and the mysterious, because our tween girls are all four of those things. There’s a lot
of stuff in there, to be digested while you continue to pack lunches,
drive carpools, get yourself to work, and grab a minute or two daily
for prayer that isn’t interrupted by somebody’s cry for clean socks,
lost homework, or sibling refereeing. So you can expect features in
each chapter that will act as a GPS system for you, whether you go
through the book in one journey or take frequent side trips.
What It Looks Like: A real-life scenario used in the introduction to
each of the four sections to show you that you are not alone — ​and
that your daughter is deliciously normal.

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Getting Clear: A full exploration of the topic, with statistics as well
as psychological and developmental background and anecdotes — ​information you need but don’t have time to google. Most of us will do
better when we know better — ​even when we’re
already doing a pretty good best.
f t he Mout
hs

o

f

to
Ou

Mini-Women
I Want to Be . . .
I want to be a math book
So I’ll get all the questions right.
I want to be a referee
So I’ll know what to do in a fight.
I want to be a pencil
So I can be used to create.
I want to be some figure skates
So I can feel a figure 8.
I want to be a flashlight
So I can show ­people the way.
I want to be a rug
So I can just lie around all day.
I want to be an eraser
So I can help ­people forget their mistakes.
I want to be a critic
So I can always say what I think.
I want to be a parent
So I can teach my brothers not to whine.
Or even better, I could be me — ​
And I could do all nine!
Regan Hendricks
age 11

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From the Ultimate Parent: The scriptural basis
for the importance of the chapter topic. Each
of these features includes suggestions for encouraging your daughter in her own faith journey and for helping you deepen your own even
when quiet time with God looks like a luxury
enjoyed only by those with nannies.
Test Your Own Waters: A self-assessment of how
this topic impacts you personally. In a nonjudgmental way this can help you see what you may
be unconsciously modeling for your daughter — ​
positively or mistakenly. The kind of information you couldn’t google even if you had the time.
Going for It: Ways to approach and deal with the
chapter topic. This will include general guidelines and hands-on suggestions for applying
them in a way that’s unique to you and your
tween daughter.
Bridging the Gap: Help in praying specifically
the most important prayer a mom can lift up:
“God, please bridge the gap between what my
daughter needs and what I have to give.”
Out of the Mouths of Mini-Women: Quotes from
tween girls about what they wish their moms
would (and wouldn’t!) do, what they appreciate
about their mothers, and what they wish they
knew — ​everything they don’t think they can tell
you themselves (but, man, would they like to!).

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That’s it. That’s our map. If you’re ready — ​or if you have ten minutes when you aren’t immersed in some girl drama — ​let’s set out
together. It is my honor to be your companion on a road I myself have
traveled. A road I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

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Part 1

I Tell Her to Be Herself, But She
Doesn’t Know Who She Is
What It Looks Like
She’s been talking about going to summer camp since before there
was a sleeping bag small enough to fit her, and she all but pitched a
legendary fit every time one of her siblings climbed on the bus and
she was left behind to suffer without campfire smoke and lumpy
crafts and shaving cream up her nose while she was sleeping.
Finally — ​and thank heaven for everyone concerned — ​the summer has come when it’s her turn to go. For weeks you’ve been shopping for the perfect swimsuit (“Mo-om, everybody else is gonna have
a bikini!”) and stocking up on a myriad of small bottles of stuff she
won’t use but has to have (what nine-year-old “needs” facial toner?)
and listening to the countdown (“Only eleven more days if you don’t
count today” — ​even if it is only six o’clock in the morning). It’s all
you’ve heard about in the minivan, all she talks about on the phone
to her friends, all she can contribute to dinner table conversation,
until her siblings are ready to break out the duct tape. You’ve started
to count the days yourself, because she’s driving you nuts.
And then the afternoon before she’s to leave, when you’re helping
her tuck the last new pair of shorts into her suitcase, she turns to
you, white-faced and trembling, and says, “I don’t think I want to go
to camp, Mom.”

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Moms’ Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World

Although your head threatens to explode, you manage to ask her
what on earth she’s talking about. It all comes out in a torrent of
what-ifs — ​
“What if everybody thinks I’m a loser? What if I don’t make any
friends? What if I get left out of everything because they all hate me?”
What can you possibly say to that except the obvious? “Honey,
don’t be silly. Just be yourself and you’ll be fine.”
She stares at you as if you’re in need of serious medication. Because whether she can put it into words for you or not, what is obvious to her is: How can I be myself when I don’t even know who I am?

A situation like that — ​or “crisis,” depending on which side of the
generational fence you’re on — ​brings into clear focus the biggest
issue a tween faces. She may never voice it. In fact, she might not
even be able to identify to herself that funkiness she feels when she
approaches a place where nobody knows her name. But unless she is
the only perfectly adjusted girl-child who has ever lived, it’s going to
be there at some point.
For some, it fades the moment she walks in the unfamiliar door
and instantly becomes the life of the party (the class, the team, the
waiting room). For others it takes some time to find the niche, the
voice, the kindred spirits. For still others that sense of not feeling
quite real becomes a way of being. Even if you’re certain she never
feels unsure of her identity (and is never shy about telling you exactly
what that is), I hope you’ll read on. After all, have you never wondered
which “self” you’re supposed to be in a brand new arena? How about
the day you brought that baby girl home from the hospital?
Here’s the deal. The question Who am I? is a perfectly natural one
for a girl between the ages of eight and twelve. She’s become gradually aware that she has emerged into a world where, unlike at home,
­people don’t have to love her. She’s realizing that how she behaves
affects whether ­people like her, which begs the next question: What if
I’m being me and nobody likes that? What she hasn’t figured out is that
every other girl in her age bracket is trying to answer those questions

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too, so they aren’t totally reliable mirrors for seeing the real her. All
of that natural figuring can take these kinds of shapes:
• Giggling like a nervous hyena. We used to call that “an attack
of the sillies” when my daughter was a tween. It’s akin to an
adult’s irresistible urge to laugh during a funeral.
• Crying for no apparent reason. Some of that is hormonal
(more on that in a later chapter), but I-don’t-know-how-I’msupposed-to-act-right-now is a common trigger for tears.
Think of yourself the first day of a new job. Escape to the
nearest restroom, anyone?
• Bringing out the negativity with both barrels. That was my
daughter’s M.O. I could always tell when she felt unsure of herself because suddenly everybody else was a moron. Seriously ​
— ​aren’t we all crankier with our kids when we’re not certain
what to do with them?
• Having an abrupt personality transplant. Normally sunny,
witty, and roll-with-the-punches, she morphs into the Tasmanian Devil right before your eyes. Always the outgoing, inyour-face type, she flips into terminal shyness and retreats to
her bedroom. PMS-style mood swings aren’t always responsible for a shift in character. Even kittens hiss and spit when
their identity is threatened. I imagine we’ve all been known to
hiss and spit now and then.
So if it’s normal, even for us, shouldn’t we just let them wrestle
with it until they come out real? That would definitely be the easiest
route to take, but as we’ve already pointed out, parenting is anything
but simple. If we leave it to our young daughters to figure out who
they are and move on, the rare few will do just that without our help.
Those would be the ones who are sealed off from the rest of the world.
Completely. And even if that were possible (we’re talking a cabin up
in the Himalayas), the moment she stepped into the real world, she
would face an identity crisis that would require years of therapy.
Our job in these tween years is to imprint the concept of authenticity and help our daughters become as comfortable with who they

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are as possible, before adolescence really puts it to the test. How
tough it is to resist negative peer pressure is almost always dependent
on how strong and positive the individual’s self-concept is. It has
almost nothing to do with the set of rules she’s been presented with.
The time to get to know her true self and to find a place for that self
in her world is right now — ​while the consequences for not doing it
don’t have the potential to deeply harm her. As a tween, if she wears
an outfit because everybody else has one and realizes she looks like
Olive Oil in the thing, she’ll recover. As a teen, if she tries a hit of
ecstasy because everybody else is doing it, she might not.
So, step one on our journey: help her find out who she is. And
you’ll no doubt discover some things about yourself along the way.

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1
Will My Real Daughter
Please Step Forward?
Whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and
would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their
child-of-God selves.
John 1:11 – 12

I feel like I’m living a life that is not mine, like I’m in a movie
with someone else writing the script telling me what to do.
age 12

N

ot to put you into a cubbyhole — ​especially since this section is
all about being uniquely oneself — ​but as a parent, it really is
helpful to look at the generation you’re part of, because, ten to one,
you do embody at least a few of its characteristics, and that does have
an effect on the way you understand your daughter’s generation.
If you were born between 1974 and 1981, you’re part of the muchtalked-about Generation X. And can I just say that if I were a Gen
X-er instead of a Baby Boomer, I would take serious exception to
being called “X”? You have been much maligned for being angsty and
materialistic, and for playing the victim, because, after all, you were
the latchkey kids. As tweens and teens you definitely had an edge to
you, and I admit that when I was teaching high school in the 1990s,
you nearly drove me to the edge.
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But you had every reason to be resentful and push the envelope
and express all that was heinous in the world. When we were raising you, many of us Baby Boomer parents were pretty busy “finding
ourselves” in the wake of that whole hippie thing — ​and a lot of us
mothers were buying into the superwoman myth that served no one
but the creators of antidepressants.
That’s putting a pretty dark face on it, but the point is, as a young
girl coming of age in your generation, peer pressure was about breaking rules. Anger was cool, and hope was absurd. Seeing how far they
could go in blasting through old taboos was the mark of Generation
X in their growing-up years. As a teacher, my heart ached, because
in my view, it was all done in hopes that somebody would notice and
say, “Okay, stop. Just stop. Let’s figure out what’s really going on here.”
Somebody finally did say, “Stop.” It was you.
As a generation of young parents, you aren’t doing things the way
we did. Your children are your treasures, and most of you are bending over backwards cherishing them. They want for nothing. You
will sacrifice anything as long as it means they go to the best schools,
have their place on the right teams, get the lessons with the top professionals, and possess every electronic device that will enable them
to keep up with all of the above. The fact that you care so deeply and
are so committed to your kids is the very reason you’re reading this
book. Your children are blessed to have you raising them.
However (and didn’t you know there would be a however?), the
X-ness is still out there in the world. Take the media, for example.
Even though you may be protective about what your child is exposed to, the world of music, movies, television, and Internet offerings still thinks that this new generation will want to continue to
push the limits of acceptability in entertainment the way Boomers
and X-ers did. I love what Neil Howe and William Strauss say in their
eye-opening book Millennials Rising:
Imagine growing up, as a kid, in a world in which older ­people
provide a trashy lineup for you, tailor it to your vernacular,
market it in your media, and then condemn you for participating in it. . . . That’s what it’s like to be a teenager today.1

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Your tween daughter, born after 1982, is a Millennial. She’s growing up far differently than you did, but the ­people making decisions
about what media is available to her are still caught up in let’s-seehow-far-we-can-take-this. It’s not an eight-year-old who is writing
the offensive lyrics to the music being sold to her — ​it’s a thirty-something. Ten-year-olds don’t make movies full of sex and obscenity — ​
the forty- and fifty-year-olds are responsible for that. She’s not seeing
a reflection of what she thinks and feels and wants in this new world
she lives in. She’s “being pulled by the license of the adult culture far
more than [she] is in any sense pushing it.”2
So — ​if your innocent daughter is going to maintain that innocence and be allowed to be a kid, either you’re going to have to raise
her like an orchid in a hothouse, or you’re going to need to help her
find out who she is and what she wants, and show her how to maintain that in the face of what our generations are throwing at her.
The sad-and-sorry state of media is only one of the reasons that
authenticity is as essential to our tween girls as good nutrition and
the right ballet teacher. Let’s explore five more.

Getting Clear: Why She Has to Be Real
Peer pressure has changed.
Peer pressure basically means: “Friends — ​who know everything — ​have way more influence than our parents, who essentially
know nothing.” Dealing with peer pressure always has been an important part of growing up. Learning who to listen to and trust is
vital to well-being — ​and there has never been a generation of parents
who has been successful at pulling off the listen-only-to-what-I-sayand-obey-only-me approach to raising kids. It’s not even healthy to
go at it that way, since the minute your child goes off to preschool
you are no longer the sole influence in her life. She has to learn to
sort through all that she’s hearing in order to get the good stuff from
it, and there is good, valuable stuff to be learned from her relationships with her peers.
The “pressure” part of it starts bearing down when what “everybody is doing” (supposedly — ​have you ever taken an actual poll of

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“everybody”?) goes against what she knows is right. At least, that was
the way it was for us. “Peer pressure” in both yours and my day came
in the form of alcohol, drugs, sex, and, if you really want to go back,
protests against the “establishment.” In essence, we were pressured
to break the rules.
Hard as that was, it was somewhat easier on our parents. The decisions were pretty clear. Do this and this will happen. There you go.
For the Millennials, though, three things have happened. First,
they had to have slept through elementary school not to have heard
about the evils of drugs, underage drinking, and unprotected sex.
They knew “Just say no” before they had the Pledge of Allegiance
committed to memory. There’s still pressure to participate, but they’re
much more savvy and not so easily persuaded. That’s good news.
But, two, the pressure now is not to break the rules, but to “fit in.”
And that is a more complicated and much muddier thing to accomplish. You have to own the right stuff, talk the right way, wear the
right clothes, and have the right coolness factor, which can change at
any moment depending on the whims of the Ruling Class that makes
those kinds of determinations, i.e., the Popular Kids. The pressure to
figure that all out is much more complex than deciding whether or
not to have a beer at a party. The consequences of succumbing to that
pressure are not life threatening, but they can be soul threatening.
Third, that kind of pressure starts long before the teen years. Your
daughters feel it as early as second or third grade, and it hits its stride
in grades four and five, so that by the time they reach middle school,
they’re being bombarded with it hourly, often in cruel ways.
What that means for parents is that just equipping girls with the
rules, a set of rights and wrongs, is, though important, not enough.
If a tween girl isn’t developing a strong sense of who she really is,
her true self can be swept away in the rush to belong in a community that doesn’t even know what it is from one minute to the next.
The eight- to twelve-year-olds I talk to on a daily basis know not
to drink, smoke, do drugs, or get physically involved with boys.
Y’know, like, du-uh. But they are already sick of trying to be cool
and popular and part of the clique. They are crying out to be real.
You can help them.

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School is becoming more standardized.
No Child Left Behind (or as my educator friends call it, No
Teacher Left Standing) has shed the spotlight on the shortcomings
of our public education system and made schools more accountable,
at least for standardized test scores. Their response has been to return to a more structured curriculum, more order in the classroom
(in the form of zero tolerance), and more emphasis on the basics.
Have you noticed that your daughter has more homework and more
demanding teachers than you did? Is she more excited about math
and science than you were, as opposed to the previously more “girly”
subjects like humanities and history and the arts? Does she perhaps
balk at the assignments that don’t call for black-and-white answers?
Does she stress about getting it “right”?
The result of “teaching to standards,” which educators are now
called upon to do, has its upside as test scores improve nationwide.
Yet there is a downside, which is that we cannot expect school to
be a place where our daughters can express themselves in authentic
ways. The trend toward cutting arts programs in these tough economic times speaks to that. In Nashville, where I live, there is one
music teacher for every seven hundred students in the school district.
Drama and band programs are seen as “nonessentials” — ​in other
words, there’s no standardized test for those, and we have to be getting them ready to score well in math and language arts, so let’s not
waste time and money on frills. Self-expression, however, is not a
frill. It’s a very real part of helping kids discover who they are, which
is just as vital to their education as their basic academic skills.
So the job of allowing your daughter to express herself into a
true sense of who she is falls to you. Her generation is becoming leftbrained.3 But her soul doesn’t reside there.

Technology can eat away at individuality.
Before you write me off as a technology-resistant fifty-something
who just doesn’t get how important technology is to daily life in the
new world — ​seriously, I do. I sit now before a computer with two
screens. My email signals me every time I have a new message. My
laptop waits in its bag for my next trip to a coffee shop that has free

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wireless. I own an iPhone that practically reminds me to pee, and if
I don’t blog and Facebook (which, I understand, is now a verb) daily,
I hear about it. Especially from your daughters.
I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without technology, and chances
are you wouldn’t either. The kinds of schedules you keep up with for
your kids boggle my mind, and I know you can’t pull it off without
at least a BlackBerry. Again, I really do get it.
I also get that your daughters are what Dr. Mary Manz Simon, the
guru of trend-savvy parenting, calls “digital natives.”4 Even if you
didn’t have a Blue Tooth device in your ear during labor, your child
has no doubt always been very aware that electronics define much
of her world. Computers are as natural to her as VCRs were to you.
She’s not afraid of technology. In fact, it gives her a certain air of
superiority to know that she can operate devices with far more ease
than her elders. My sister’s eleven-year-old granddaughter recently
taught her how to text. Tween girls who post on my blog are not shy
about telling me if I would do this, this, and this, my pictures would
load more easily or I could change fonts, you know, so it wouldn’t be
boring. No offense.
I don’t begrudge them the labor-saving devices they get to use in
their education. Who wouldn’t rather look up facts on the Internet
than plow through the Encyclopedia Britannica? Even as I’m writing
this book, I’m remembering the agony of typing footnotes on an electric typewriter on erasable bond paper. Only on my crankiest days do
I resent the fact that our tween girls will never have to endure that.
But I still have concerns. Will our mini-women depend so much
on technology they’ll become isolated from the very ­people they’re
constantly connecting with? I have a blog for young teens on which
posters are constantly saying, “I wish I could be as real with my faceto-face friends as I can with all of you.” I am so saddened by that.
I also worry that they are limited in expressing their uniqueness.
There is a certain sameness in texting and Facebooking that, no matter how much they customize and personalize, seems to compromise
their individuality. I see them in danger of being cookie-cuttered,
only allowed to be creative within the limits of a MySpace page or a
cell phone screen.

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Another problem is that constant emailing and texting and Twittering and cell phoning could make them so dependent on peer support, they don’t even know if they’re okay unless they have their BFF
within an instant’s reach. It used to be bad enough to eat alone in the
cafeteria. Now if no one’s emailed them in the last five minutes, they
wonder if there’s something wrong with them. It’s far easier to be in
the loop than it is to be real.

Scheduling is now the biggest part of parenting.
Moms these days don’t mean for it to be, but so often it’s the truth.
By the time you get them to school, participate in the book fairs and
field trips — ​whether by physical presence or yet another check made
out to the school because you yourself have a job to pay for all of the
following — ​make sure they get to the after-school activities, make
some kind of meal happen, supervise (or referee) homework, and get
everybody ready to do the whole thing again tomorrow — ​is there
actually time for all the things you thought parenting was about? You
know, like teaching life lessons, sharing everybody’s day at the dinner table, lingering over the tucking-in to say prayers and tell stories.
You dreamed of that, didn’t you?
And then the world took over. Sure, you could take your daughter
out of everything and try to recreate a nostalgic fifties’ cookies-andmilk-after-school atmosphere in your home, but a nagging anxiety
would creep in that you were cheating her of all that’s out there for
her, all the things her friends are taking part in. You’d sense that she
was perhaps falling behind and would soon become a gymnasticsless, soccer-challenged, piano-deprived misfit. You’re a good mom.
You can’t do that to her. It’s the way things are and you’re coping with
it, and probably pretty well.
I really do believe that, so please know that this is not at all a criticism. It’s merely an observation that you might want to look at. Yes,
I’m seeing tween girls who are gaining great confidence and team
spirit from participating in sports, who are exhibiting tremendous
poise and grace from performing in dance, gymnastics, and musical endeavors, who have a deep spiritual awareness because of their
involvement in church life. At the same time, when I suggest to them

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that they take some time to dream or journal or talk to God, I often
get very adult-sounding responses:
• “My schedule’s pretty tight. I don’t know if I have time.”
• “My plate’s already full.”
• “If I add another thing to my day, my head’s going to explode!”

f

f t he Mout hs
to
o
u
O

Mini-Women
“I’d like for my mom
to know that sometimes we have to face
stuff on our own, and
sometimes we need
to be alone to figure
it out.”
age 11

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These are nine-, ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds. Most of them
love what they’re doing, or they at least know the importance of it,
and no doubt they’re learning things about themselves in the process.
But when do they sort that through? When do they process it? What
chance do they have to express it or experiment with it or even have
a good cry over it?
I have a very real fear that they will become capable, efficient, accomplished young women who have no clue what lies under all their
achievements. The more they add to their résumés — ​and at twelve
many of them are already thinking about what their college applications need to look like — ​the more what they do defines who they
are. That’s certainly a part of the big picture, but it isn’t all of it. The
discovery of self that used to naturally occur when kids took off on
their bikes after school and weren’t seen again until Dad stood out in
the front yard and gave the family whistle doesn’t happen now unless
the parents are intentional in finding other ways for their daughters
to simply be.

Failure isn’t an option.
It used to be, as recently as the early nineties, that grades didn’t really “count” until high school. A student could barely scrape through
middle school, suddenly decide to make the honor roll, and emerge
as valedictorian. It didn’t usually happen that way, but kids were told
it could, and some actually did gear up for freshman year, knowing
that now it “mattered.”
These days, it starts “mattering” in kindergarten, sometimes even
before, as moms shop for preschools the moment that little blue line
comes up on the pregnancy test. Success in kindergarten means reading on a second-grade level. Virtually babies still, first and second
graders have hours of homework. Fourth and fifth graders carry

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backpacks that not only make them look like Quasimodo, but are
sentencing them to years of chiropractic treatment. My own observations indicate that tweens are either stressing to compete for the top
grades, or they’ve already defined themselves as “losers” and have
basically given up.
And it’s not just in the classroom where the pressure’s on to excel.
Girls are competing in sports earlier than ever, and even the least
likely to ever kick a ball professionally are being assured that if they
work hard enough, they can get an athletic scholarship. Not that college is on their minds at ten, but hey, we have to prepare for the future,
right? Could some promise shown in gymnastics or skating mean the
Olympics are a possibility? If she plays the piano or the violin this
well now, should we be thinking about Julliard? Carnegie Hall?
I am not saying that we shouldn’t dream big for our daughters,
or even that we should refrain from encouraging them to dream
for themselves. What little girl who has ever put on a pair of ballet
slippers and a tutu hasn’t dreamed of debuting as Clara in The Nutcracker? The issue we can run into in today’s culture is the seriousness behind it all. These are uncertain financial times; where is the
money for college going to come from? The number of college applicants is increasing, but the number of colleges isn’t. Nineteen thousand high school seniors applied to Vanderbilt University last year.
Sixteen hundred were accepted. If our daughters are going to be able
to compete in that arena, don’t we have to start preparing them now?
And what about failure in life choices? Having sex still carries
with it the danger of pregnancy or STDs — ​but now we’ve added HPV,
which is linked to cervical cancer. If we don’t make sure she remains
a virgin, couldn’t she actually die? Twelve- to seventeen-year-olds
made up 8 percent of substance abuse treatment admission in 2006,
and made up nearly half of all admissions who say they used inhalants, which can cause severe damage, even death.5 One bad decision
and might we not lose her forever?
And what about her soul? There are so many religious options . . .
don’t we have to guarantee that she won’t stray from the Chris­tian
faith, even for a moment? Don’t we have to shelter them so there’s no
chance that they’ll turn out to be shoplifters or exotic dancers?

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Talk about the pressure your daughter is under — ​you are dealing
with 10,000 PSI on her behalf. There’s no margin for error. She has
to get it right, and you’re responsible for that.
Or at least that’s the way it seems. After a certain point, I tend to
disagree. Your daughter is eight, nine, ten, eleven, or twelve years
old. There is no way she is not going to come up short on something. And why not? So much of her education about herself and how
she fits into the world comes from the mistakes she makes, the bad
choices she opts for, the immature decisions that happen on the spur
of the moment. If she isn’t allowed to make some personal choices
now and suffer consequences that are not life-threatening, she is only
going to know how to be “good,” maybe a “high achiever,” perhaps a
“success” in some field. But she’s not going to know what makes her
who she is as an individual. If you never allow her to “fail,” she most
assuredly will.
It may be harder than it has ever been for a tween girl to discover
who she is. But who she is, is in there. She can either become an unconscious, twisted version of it, or she can be the deliberately true
version. With society being what it is, you are her best chance of
discovering and living into the latter. Even with all the other voices
calling to her, yours is still the one she hears most clearly.
It won’t be that way forever. You will still have influence on her
when she becomes a teenager, but exerting it then can be far more of
a battle than it is when she’s a tween. Why not connect with her now,
when it can be delightful for both of you — ​before you hear yourself saying what the mother of a young teenager said to me just this
morning: “I have never been as annoying to another human being as
I am to my thirteen-year-old daughter.” As I recall, just last year she
was telling me what a great relationship they had.
Yeah. Do it now.

From the Ultimate Parent
I’m convinced, especially after writing the features for the FaithGirlz
Bible, that the whole gospel is about authenticity. Seriously. ­Jesus
talks about real faith — ​the true worshipers worshiping in spirit and

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in truth. He gets into the faces of the Pharisees for being hypocrites,
and holds up children, the most transparent of beings, as examples
for us all. He’s constantly telling us to get real, because we can’t be
truly saved any other way. I quote again the passage you found at the
beginning of this chapter: “Whoever did want him, who believed he
was who he claimed and would do what he said, he made to be their
true selves, their child-of-God selves” (John 1:11 – 12).
You don’t have to take my word for it that authenticity is essential
to your tween daughter. ­Jesus beat me to it a long time ago. “It’s who
you are, not what you say and do, that counts,” he says in Luke 6:45.
“Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”
In John 3:6, he tells us, “When you look at a baby, it’s just that:
a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape
within is formed by something you can’t see and touch — ​the Spirit — ​
and becomes a living Spirit.”
That concept was familiar to his listeners. “He has shaped each
person in turn,” a psalmist had written centuries before. “Now he
watches everything we do” (Psalm 33:15).
I don’t think we can deny that God put a “self” in that baby girl
long before you knew her, so it pretty much follows that you as her
mom have a responsibility to help her coax it out and embrace it.
Isaiah, bless his outspoken, prophetic heart, puts it in even stronger terms: “You have no right to argue with your Creator. You are
merely a clay pot shaped by a potter. The clay doesn’t ask, ‘Why did
you make me this way?’ ” (Isaiah 45:9). I have to admit I prefer the
way one of my favorite Chris­tian nonfiction authors, Dan Allender,
expresses it: “We read our children as God wrote them.”6
There it is. God says it. But as always there’s the question — ​
“Okay, but what does that look like?” You’re convinced she needs to
be herself, but how does God mean for you to help her do that? We’re
going to talk about a number of things you can look at and try. The
following are the ones I see as arising directly from the Spirit.

41

“I told her she needed
to be herself, that God
had made her exactly
the way he wants her
to be for the things
that he has planned
for her. What she said
next was heartbreaking. She said, ‘I don’t
even know who I am.’
Mother of a
12-year-old

Be content with who she truly is.
If she isn’t a math whiz, so be it. Okay, so yeah, the best jobs of
the future may require a solid arithmetic skill set, but if that isn’t

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her, it isn’t her. God’s got something else planned. She’s not as outgoing as you think she needs to be in order to survive the looming
giant, middle school? You’re not going to turn her into an extrovert,
so don’t try. You can mold a basic sense of caring and consideration
(because children are born totally self-centered, after all!), but you
can’t “make” her into anything she isn’t. She’s destined by God to
take a certain shape. Don’t re-form it. Just love it. Only things that
go against what you know of God are not “her.” “You’re blessed when
you’re content with just who you are — ​no more, no less,” ­Jesus says
in his marvelous recounting of the Beatitudes. “That’s the moment
you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought”
(Matthew 5:5).

Give her opportunities to serve, rather than constantly being
served.
She’s privately chauffeured, provided with every chance to experience whatever she wants to, and sheltered like a crown princess.
That speaks well of you as a parent. It also explains why this era of
child-raising is already known as the Age of Entitlement.7 You can be
an even better parent if you require consistent help around the house,
a commitment to treating members of the family with respect, and
encouragement to do things for other ­people when she really doesn’t
“have to” — ​as in, there’s nothing in it for her. And yet there is.
“Do you want to stand out?” ­Jesus says. “Then step down. Be a
servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of
you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count
for plenty” (Matthew 23:12). It’s almost impossible to be anything
other than genuine when you’re absorbed in meeting someone else’s
needs. Your daughter isn’t too young to experience that.

Teach her to let ­Jesus lead.
All of us Chris­tians say it: “­Jesus Christ is master of my life.” And
then most of us go ahead and do what we want or what the world
expects or what’s going to get us through the next half hour without
smacking somebody. The reason for that, of course, is that our lives
are so full and complicated and downright frenetic. But despite their

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crowded schedules, tween girls aren’t faced with the same degree of
complexity that we are. It’s so much simpler for them to take each
issue they face to the Lord and then clearly see how it’s resolved. I
love this passage:
Then ­Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to
come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I
am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show
you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my
way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to
get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever
trade your soul for?”
Matthew 16:24 – 26

Model authentic worship.
When ­Jesus was coaxing the genuine article out of the woman at
the well, he said to her: “It’s who you are and the way you live that
count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of ­people the Father is out looking for:
those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their
worship.” And just in case she didn’t get it (most of us don’t the first
time through), he added: “God is sheer being itself — ​Spirit. Those
who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits,
their true selves, in adoration.”
When I read that, I don’t get an image of a chaotic Sunday morning getting everybody dressed, fed, and out of the house — ​fighting
en route about who didn’t brush their teeth and who doesn’t want to
go to Sunday school — ​delivering everyone to their respective classrooms — ​catching about half of what goes on in your own class because you’re still reliving the fight in the car — ​regrouping all of them
for the worship ser­v ice and going through the motions while you try
to keep your brood from scribbling on the back of the pew, texting
during the sermon, and dozing off while the anthem is being sung.
And that’s just your husband.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but I’ve never known a churchgoing
mother yet who didn’t own up to the fact that her “true worship” was
compromised by squirming, whispering, yawning children. Some of

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f

f t he Mout hs
to
o
u
O

Mini-Women
“The most important
thing my mom taught
me is to love God and
have a relationship
with him. They’ve
always encouraged
me in this area, which
I know I do take
for granted — ​not
everyone’s parents
are Chris­tians, which
can make life kind of
harder.”
age 12

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that’s unavoidable. Kids aren’t programmed to sit still, and let’s face
it, most sermons aren’t written with them in mind. But some of it
comes from focusing on whether your offspring are bothering anybody. Tween girls are seldom the culprits. Can the younger ones hang
out in the nursery (or be administered a dose of Dramamine — ​JK!)
so you and your daughter can share a worship experience?
Can you bring your true self to the occasion? Are you naturally
inclined to sing your heart out? Raise your hands in the air? Respond
verbally to the sermon? (Hopefully not with, “You lie, brother!”) Or
is it more you to become quiet and reverent, hands folded, lips whispering? Whatever is natural when you go into the house of the Lord,
that’s what your daughter needs to see — ​not to copy it, but to know
that it is a good and joyful thing to get real when you worship.
Again, if authentic worship means waiting until younger children
can do the same before dragging them into the sanctuary, their spiritual formation won’t be stunted. If it takes shedding some of your
church commitments so you can concentrate on praising and praying and filling your well, the place isn’t going to fall down around
you. Seriously, if your young daughter can’t be herself before God,
how can we expect her to be so in front of ­people who don’t love her
unconditionally the way he does? Sounds like a priority to me.

Honor her doubts and questions.
I know it seems like if we could just indoctrinate them in the
faith now, give them a solid, certain foundation, they’ll never waver.
To some moms that translates as never exposing them to any other
religion, making sure they have only Chris­tian friends, only going
to church-sponsored social events, sacrificing so they can go to a
Chris­tian school, or making the supreme sacrifice and homeschooling them. None of those things are harmful in and of themselves.
Certainly we want our girls to know as much about ­Jesus Christ as
they possibly can and to love him and serve him and follow him.
Where I cringe is when I hear girls say: “Is it okay that sometimes
I wonder if God’s really there? I’m asking you because I’m afraid to
ask my mom.” Is there any one of us who can honestly say she hasn’t
agonized over a failed relationship or mourned the untimely loss of

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a loved one or rocked a screaming baby and thought, “Where are
you, God? What — ​did you lose my address?” When God answers in
some concrete way or in his still, small voice, “I’m here. What do you
need?” our faith is strengthened beyond the mere recitation of the
creed. Doubting and questioning are an integral part of the growth
of our faith — ​and it’s no different for our daughters.
I look at it this way:
answers

nt
spe

Search
ing
wi

d for

me
Ti

th

Go

D

om

d

eu

p

with Go

Faith

bt
ou

Qu
e
s
t
i
on
sc

You have faith, so you spend time with God. While you’re hanging
out — ​praying, reading the Bible, meditating on your experiences and
how they’re lining up, or not lining up, with what you think you know
of God, questions come up. Why do bad things happen when I’m being
so faithful? Why are some ­people literally getting away with murder?
Why is he saying one minute that I’m mere dust in the wind, and the
next he’s saying I own the universe? Those questions naturally create
doubt. You want those doubts resolved, so you hang out more with
God, searching together for the answers. When you find them, you
have even more faith, which means more time spent with God, which
leads to even deeper questions, more troubling doubts, more stunning
answers, and a faith that grows more solid with every new question.
I can almost hear you protesting: I can do that. I’m an adult. But
who’s to say my daughter won’t be led off on some tangent while she’s
doing all this questioning?
First of all, nobody said she’d be doing this by herself. You’ll be
the one teaching her about the things that will hold her up in the process. Conversations with God in prayer. Learning to read the Bible.
Authentic worship. And mentors — ​like you. If you allow it, you are

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f

f t he Mout hs
to
o
u
O

Mini-Women
“My mom has taught
me all about God and
his Word. Even things
she doesn’t say I have

the one she will come to with her questions and her doubts; you’ll
be the one who assures her that doubt is not the opposite of faith,
but an important part of it. You’ll be the one who refuses to judge
her or pitch a hissy fit if she says, “Did ­Jesus really come back from
the grave? I mean, seriously?” You are the one who will say, without
horror, “He really did — ​but why do you ask?”
Undergirding all of that, of course, is God himself. Remember the
parent who came to ­Jesus asking him to heal his child who had suffered from seizures all his young life? He himself was stricken with
a certain amount of doubt. “If you can do anything,” he said, “do it.
Have a heart and help us!” (Mark 9:22).
“If?” ­Jesus says. “There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can
happen” (v. 23). To which the father responds, “Then I believe. Help
me with my doubts!” (v. 24).
You can show your daughter that God understands the questions
and the doubts and will help her through them. If you don’t, if you’re
shocked by anything but an at-all-times-unshakable faith, one of two
things is likely to happen:
1. She’s going to interpret that to mean that having doubts makes
her a bad person, so she might as well give up on Chris­tian­
ity — ​and she will as soon as she’s out of the house.
2. She’ll shove her doubts and questions under the rug and know
only a rigid version of “faith” that keeps God and joy at a
distance.
Is it necessary to say that both you and God want something more
for your precious angel-child?

learned from her. Like
listening to God.”
age 10

Test Your Own Waters
Before we move on to forming a plan for putting that into action, let’s
take a few minutes to look at you and where you are in being your
true self. This is not a matter of determining that you’re a fraudulent
mess so how can you possibly teach your daughter the first thing
about being real. I actually think it’s more about discovering how
genuine you really are, and how much you have to offer your resident

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mini-woman. I know that I am constantly surprised at how “myself”
I’ve become when I wasn’t looking, and I suspect you’ll find out much
the same thing. This is affirmation, ladies, not condemnation. (Not
with me having this rather large beam in my eye . . .)
I know you probably don’t have time to write out answers to essay
questions. But at the same time, I don’t want to give you one of those
magazine-style quizzes where you pick a, b, or c and read a paragraph
that tells you what kind of friend, mother, cook, or Chris­tian you are.
This is about not putting yourself into some artificial slot, right? So — ​
I’ve simply provided you with some things to think about. They can
become part of your quiet time with God (you have managed to carve
some into your day, yes?). If you’re a journaler, these might be topics. Or
you could simply ponder them while you’re waiting for your daughter
to get out of soccer practice, piano lessons, play rehearsal — ​you know,
instead of catching up on your phone calls. If you’re the quintessential
extrovert who doesn’t know exactly what she thinks until it comes
out of her mouth (I often fall into that category myself), you could use
these as discussion starters with other moms you trust. However you
approach them, I hope they’ll lead you to a clear awareness of the part
your trueness plays in the raising of your tween daughter.
• Do you believe that women have a special wisdom when it
comes to their children? That they instinctively know who their
daughters are — ​even if that’s not who they want them to be? Do
you know that wisdom is inside you, providing the strength and
power you need to raise your daughter authentically? No matter
what anybody else is telling you, do you know that?
• Are you using that wisdom with your daughter? Are you accepting who she is — ​or are you trying to shape her into who
you think she needs to be in order to do well in this world?
Do you know her natural personality is going to make it hard
for her to fit in, and so you’re trying to change her to make her
life easier? Or are you looking for ways to help her be who she
is and still find a sense of belonging?
• Do you take time to cultivate your own interests? Do you make
space in your schedule so you can have quiet moments with

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God? Do you insist on respect for who you are? Or are you
always, always available to fill every request? Do you put one
more activity for your daughter ahead of that Bible study you
think you’d really benefit from? Do you find yourself wishing
you could go to the bathroom without somebody pounding
on the door wanting to know when you’re going to take her to
her BFF’s house? Do you find yourself wishing you could buy a
one-way ticket to the Cayman Islands, just so you could think
your own thoughts?
• Do you work very hard at trying to be a perfect parent? Does
that leave you feeling not perfect, never good enough? Do you
ever resent your daughter for not allowing you to be the perfect parent? Or do you learn from your shortfalls? Let yourself
be human? Refuse to let your kids criticize you for not being
infinitely patient, kind, and understanding, when it’s they who
are driving you up the wall?
• If someone asked you (like I’m doing now) to tell a story from
your daughter’s recent history that would sum up who she is,
what would it be? Would it be delightful to spin out that tale?
Would it bring tears to your eyes? Would it break your heart?
Would it make you want to go hug her?
• If you asked her to tell a story from her recent history of you
that would sum up who you are, do you think she could do it?
Does she know you well enough? What tale do you think she’d
tell? I dare you to give it a go.
Are you getting a sense of what an incredible mother you are and
can be just by being your authentic self? Your journey is a model for
her. Continually discovering yourself and being that to the best of
your human ability will go farther than anything else in insuring
that your daughter will do the same.

Going for It
I will probably say this no less than fifty times in this book: I can’t
tell you how to be the best parent to your tween daughter. I can only

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offer some concrete ways to get to what’s going to work best for both
of you.
Using all of the above, here’s what I’ve come up with for guiding
your mini-woman toward her true self.

Give her space and time to wonder and experiment and try
out who she is.
You can feel like you need computer software to figure out how
much after-school activity is too much — ​and which activities are
helping her discover who she is and which are stressing her out — ​
and which are helping her socially and which fall into the category
of “everybody’s doing it.” Not only that, but there really are so many
great opportunities for kids now — ​everything from classes in composing your own songs to travelling soccer teams. What if you’re
responsible for her missing out on something amazing?
Actually, the only “program” you need is your understanding of
your own daughter. Some thrive on a busy schedule — ​although I
still advise leaving at least two afternoons a week open. Some determine early on that they want to focus on one activity and knock
everybody’s socks off with it. Others just simply need a lot of down
time. Go with what you know. Try not to let what’s being done by
all the other moms determine how you and your daughter structure
her out-of-school time. (You don’t have to do what everybody else is
doing anymore!)
When your daughter does have some time to wonder, be her ally
(or her security guard if you have to be) in insuring her some privacy.
Seriously, wouldn’t you enjoy an hour to sort through what the day
has brought, without somebody yelling, “Hurry up! It’s time to go!”

Don’t label her.
We Chris­tians are so guilty of that with the personality tests we
take in church groups. “Oh, she’s a sanguine. She just doesn’t get
worked up about things.” “Not mine. She’s such a melancholic. Cries
over everything.” Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, spiritual giftings,
that thing where you’re a golden retriever or a weasel or whatever — ​
all of those are helpful in working with and getting along with adults,

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and even in teaching your kids if you homeschool them or help them
with homework. But an eight- to twelve-year-old girl, though she has
a specific nature, hasn’t grown into it yet. She may have been a highspirited handful right from the delivery room, but to tell her, “You’re
a choleric, which means (what does it mean — ​I’ve never been able to
keep those straight) . . .” is to make it far less likely that she’s going
to explore all that she is. Personality “types” are useful tools. They
aren’t labels that tell us what’s in our souls. We humans are far too
rich and complex to be defined by one word.

Help her say what she means.
She might not always know, but that provides you with an opportunity to help her find out and put it into words that heal rather
than hurt, that open ­people up rather than shut them down, that
resolve issues rather than turn them into international incidents. It’s
about helping her to find her voice. If she’s prone to screaming like
the proverbial banshee when she’s crossed, you can help her find a
way to state her case without alienating everyone within a hundred
yards. If she tends to go off and pout, you can draw her out and make
it safe for her to say what she’s feeling. Again, she might not know
exactly what that is, much less how to express it effectively, but that’s
where you come in.
One of the things I did do “right” as the mother of a tween daughter was to approach Marijean’s tirades with, “Okay, let’s find out
what’s really going on here.” I believed that “going off” isn’t really
who anybody “is,” and if I could teach her to get in touch with what
she was feeling and talk about that, instead of lashing out at whoever
was within tongue’s reach, I would be helping her find out who she
actually was. It seems to have worked. It went something like:
“Okay, so Mrs. Luzzie is stupid, everybody in your class is stupid,
I’m apparently stupid for making you go to school. Since none of that
is probably true” — ​pause for her to eventually and perhaps reluctantly
nod — ​“did something happen today that made you feel stupid?” That
usually resulted in an immediate torrent of tears, much preferable to
the previous near-apoplexy, and a joint effort in determining how she
could deal with her imaginary stupidness and move on.

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Granted, Marijean was an only child. But at the same time, I was
working as a teacher, running a children’s theatre, and trying to get
my writing career off the ground. Going through that with her took
time it wouldn’t appear that I had. I made time. What I didn’t make
time for was keeping up with the laundry, putting fabulous meals
on the table, or getting those papers graded within a week of the assignment. There are only so many hours in the day. Using some of
them to help your daughter find her voice sounds like a good use of
time to me.

When she speaks in her own voice, listen to her.
That sounds pretty simple. If she’s like many tween girls (my own
included), she never stops talking. How can you help but listen, right?
Actually, I think most of us moms do a pretty good job of not tuning
in. Even today, there are times when my grown daughter calls me
while I’m working and I find myself going, “Uh-huh. Really. Wow.”
In response to what, I have no idea. We often have to go on autopilot
just to maintain our sanity.
And yet. Isn’t there a maternal antenna that goes up when your
daughter takes that tone that says, “I’m in trouble here”? Doesn’t everything in you say you need to stop what you’re doing and find out
what this is about? Those are the times when she’s going to tell you
who she is — ​in the way she handles stress, in the way she responds to
hurt, in the way she approaches problems. This is where you discover
that raising her isn’t all about making rules and applying them — ​
though that has to happen too. It’s about reading who she is and parenting her accordingly. She’s giving you a glimpse. Don’t miss it.

Let her make mistakes.
I know this is where I might lose you, but I’m taking the chance
that you’ll hear me out. We’ve already talked about the fallacy in Failure isn’t an option. You can put that into practice in ways that aren’t
going to throw your daughter into harm’s way, and may keep her out
of it in the future.
First let’s talk about the difference between “protecting” and
“sheltering.”

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Protecting means providing a safe place to live. Making sure she
eats right and dresses appropriately for the weather so she has a better
chance of avoiding illness. Not letting her wander off alone in stores.
Keeping a close watch on her Internet access. Preventing her brothers
from leaving bruises on her. Protection is a response to your deep love
for her and your desire for her to grow up strong and healthy and whole.
Sheltering is something else entirely. It’s preventing her from ever
coming into contact with something that might potentially give her
a peek at a path that differs from the one you are determined she’s
going to follow no matter what. It’s reading every book she wants to
read before you let her open the cover. Not allowing her to watch a
movie, listen to a song, or view a TV show that doesn’t have overtly
Chris­tian content. (Are there any TV shows with Chris­tian content?)
Requiring her to keep her bedroom door open at all times. Telling
her she shouldn’t even be thinking about boys until she’s eighteen.
Moms who shelter in these ways love their children fiercely. We
should all have had mothers who cared that impeccably about us.
But the sheltering decisions they make aren’t based on love. They’re
based on fear. And while parenting is surely a terrifying task, it
should never be directed by the fear that one misstep is going to ruin
the child for life — ​perhaps even for eternity.
If you are a shelterer, then yes, what I’m about to advise may seem
horrifying to you, but I’m begging you to at least pray about it as a
possibility. Here it is. When your daughter was learning to walk, you
weren’t constantly picking her up every time she came down on her
diaper-padded little fanny. You didn’t say, “Don’t let go of that table
or you’ll fall.” She had to experiment, she had to try and fall down
and get back up and try again in order to eventually move forward.
She still does.
That doesn’t mean throwing up your hands and saying, “Do what
you want to do, but don’t come crying to me if it doesn’t work out.” It
does mean that in the case of something where the consequences of a
bad choice will not be dire, but rather provide the teachable moment,
you can wisely say: “Okay, if you treat your friend this way today,
she probably isn’t going to be your friend tomorrow,” and let her go.
There may be tears, but who ever grew up without shedding a few?

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“I am not going to stand over you again tonight until you get your
worksheet done. You decide whether you’re going to do it or not, but
if you don’t, the sleepover tomorrow night is out.” Then stick by it.
When she hears Monday morning about what a blast the slumber
party was, doing that worksheet is going to seem like a small price to
pay to get back into the loop.
You will obviously decide which decisions can safely be left up
to her and which ones are totally in your court. When my daughter
was only two and I was struggling with the constant arguments (she
was never one to throw a tantrum — ​she just wanted to debate everything), a counselor friend showed me a technique we used with her
until she graduated from high school.
My husband Jim and I drew a box on a piece of paper. Inside the
box, we wrote down all the things that she might as well not argue
about because that was the way they were going to be. Since she
wasn’t even reading yet, we drew a picture beside each one. The box
contained things like “Go to bed at 7:30,” “Sit at the table while you
eat. If you get down you’re done. Period.” “Say please and thank you.”
“Ask ‘Why?’ instead of saying ‘No’ when we tell you to do something.”
It was a pretty big box. But there was still a little room on the piece of
paper outside its lines. There she could put the things that were her
decision. Which toy to play with. Which outfit to wear of the three
Mom puts on your bed. Which book to have read to you before bed.
It worked like a charm most of the time. All we had to do was
say, “Uh, I believe that’s in the box,” and the whining eventually
faded. She felt pretty good about her sweet self getting to make some
choices, and the “Wait, this one, not that one — ​no I wanted THAT
one!” was eliminated. “You picked it, darlin’, so here we go.”
As Marijean got older, the box got gradually smaller. We redid
it every so often as it seemed appropriate, until she didn’t need the
visual drawing anymore, just the sense that some things were still in
our hands and some were up to her — ​w ith the full knowledge that
there are always consequences for the decisions you make and you
can’t blame anybody else for them.
Through the years, Marijean and I have discussed the fact that
some girls didn’t seem to have a box. That they rode roughshod over

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their parents and ended up a danger to themselves and others. Their
potential for a free and happy life was down to nil. On the other
hand, some girls operated with a box that filled up the whole page,
no matter how old they were. Interesting how they too ended up a
danger to themselves and others, without the possibility of an authentic journey. I try not to be smug — ​but again, I swear by this.
You still have the brakes. You can still intervene if a decision she’s
about to make suddenly threatens to get ugly. You’re like the driver’s
ed teacher who gives the young driver the wheel, lets her stall out,
and watches her knock over a few pylons before she gets the hang of
parallel parking. But he doesn’t take her out on the interstate until
she’s ready — ​and he’s always prepared to grab the wheel or come
down on that brake he has on his side of the car. Eventually he’ll let
her take off on her own — ​way on down the road from now — ​but
that won’t happen if they never leave the parking lot now.

Realize that the things that drive you crazy about her now
may become the best things about her in the future.
Does she argue about absolutely everything? You can put limits on
that (see the box technique above), but try not to stifle it completely.
She could be headed toward becoming a great debater, perhaps an
attorney (so she can support you in your old age). Does she have an
opinion about absolutely everything? You can teach her to express
those in appropriate ways, but I wouldn’t try to stop her from having
them. Who’s to say she isn’t destined to be a social critic? Does she
spend long hours daydreaming when she’s supposed to be setting
the table? Definitely train her to take care of her responsibilities, but
make sure she has plenty of “legal” dreaming time. Great feats always
begin with great visions.

Above all, enjoy her.
The best way to instill a love for who she truly is — ​is simply to
show her that she is truly adored. That you treasure her precious self.
That you are delighted with who she is, no matter who she is. No, you
aren’t going to giggle with glee when she’s slamming her bedroom door
because you’ve told her she can’t have an iPhone. But there are plenty

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of moments when she isn’t practicing to be the Wicked Witch of the
West — ​in fact, that’s probably most of the time. That’s when you can
show her that she is the joy of your world, not because of anything she
does to “earn” that, but simply because she’s your daughter.
As a tween she’s experiencing a certain confidence, perhaps a
sense of adventure that’s typical of her age. Revel in that. Have fun
getting to know her. Watch, listen, study, figure out — ​who did God
make her to be? And love doing it. Purely and simply, love it.
For example, some of the discussions you’ll have with your girl
as she grows up are going to be on the heavy side, but the question
“Who are you?” can be one of the lighter ones to entertain.
What if on one of those afternoons spent in the car dropping kids
off and picking them up, you and your mini-woman ask each other:
• If you were a dog, which breed do you think you’d be? (Not
which one you want to be, but which one fits your personality.)
• If Dad were a chef back in the kitchen of a restaurant, what
would you order that would let him know you were there in
the dining room?
• What color says it all about you?
• If you could ask God one specific question and have him answer in an audible voice, what would it be?
The only rule in this game is that you don’t get to say, “No, I don’t
think you’re an Irish setter — ​you’re more like a Chihuahua.” The
point is to find out what she knows about herself. The fun comes in
the surprises.
Enjoy. Yes, enjoy.

Bridging the Gap
Lord God, thank you for making _________________ everything you
want her to be. Please help me to see what that is. Please guide me in
guiding her to embrace her me-ness. I know I can’t do it for her, so
please, please, bridge the gap between what she needs in order to be
truly authentic, and what help I have to give.
Thanks be to you, God. Thanks be to you. Amen.

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